Monday, December 31, 2012

50 Years Ago: Mariner II at Venus

Mariner Space Probe illustration.

On this last day of 2012, I'm trying to catch up on some 50 years ago items from 1962. On december 14, 1962, the Mariner 2 space probe made its closest pass to the planet Venus. Closing to about 41,000 km, the encounter was also the first time a planetary probe had reached another planet. Mariner 2 had had several problems along the way, but the durability of the craft came through and gave the world new information about our sister planet.

The data radioed back from Mariner confirmed scientists' estimates of the incredibly hot temperatures and the thick atmosphere of the planet. It also determined that the temperature was fairly evenly distributed around the entire globe. Experiments searching for a magnetic field came up empty, meaning Venus either had a very tiny magnetic field or there wasn't one. Other interesting discoveries showed that Venus had a slow rotation that was in the opposite direction from that of Earth's and that there was no radiation belt like our own Van Allen Belt.

Mariner 2 continued on past Venus into an orbit around the Sun. It was last heard from on January 3, 1963, and is still out there today....

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rocket and Spaceflight updates

Ebb and Flow, the twin GRAIL satellites over the Moon.

SpaceX made further progress on its Grasshopper rocket program on December 17. In a 29-second flight, the 10-story tall Grasshopper rocket (a Falcon 9 first stage with Merlin engine) made a 40 meter flight up, then hovered, and then landed safely in the upright position! Watch the cool video on Parabolic Arc's website here:

CBC/Canada has a good article on the docking of Soyuz TMA-07M at the ISS.  Crewmember Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, will become the Expedition 35 commander in March:

CollectSace published a nice article about the end of the GRAIL mission over the Moon. The twin satellites Ebb and Flow made a planned crash into the lunar surface on December 17. Information about their incredible mission here:

A new LANDSAT satellite is on its way to the Vandenberg AFB in California for an upcoming flight.  The LANDSAT 5 satellite will be decommissioned in a few more months.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Team 34 B on the way to ISS

Blast off of the TMA-07M Soyuz rocket and spacecraft.

Help is on the way for the three current crew of the International Space Station. This morning at 5:12 am MST, a Russian rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The spacecraft is on a two-day orbit path to intersect and dock with the ISS on Friday. On board are astronauts Chris Hadfield, Tom Marshburn, and cosmonaut Roman Romanenko. When Expedition 35 begins in March 2013. Canadian Chris Hadfield will become the station commander.

Currently, the expedition 34 team on ISS is Commander Kevin Ford, and flight engineers Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Missed Me! Missed Me!

Asteroid Toutatis radar images.

This last week saw a flurry of asteroid watch action as several rocky bodies passed close to the Earth. Well, relatively speaking.  On December 11, not one but THREE asteroids made scientists take notice. 

Zip! There it goes! 2012 XE54 is spotted.

First on the list was 2012 XE54, a small bodied rock about 36 meters in size, passed within the Earth-Moon distance, a little over 60% of the distance. Not Earth-shattering, but big enough to possibly cause a Tunguska-like event if it had hit us. Scary note here: this was a recently-discovered asteroid, which shows you that there are dangerous steroids out there that we DON'T know about yet.

Next up was 2012 XL55, about half the size of XE54, but it wasn't as close... just a mere 4.2 times the distance from Earth to Moon (which itself is 240,000+ miles away). And on it's heels was 2009 BS5, just a little bit smaller, but twice as far away.

Then came the big show on the 12th. Asteroid 4179 Toutatis is an old friend, first discovered in 1934. It has a somewhat erratic orbit that actually crosses the orbit of Mars as well as Earth's, and is influenced by the gravity of Jupiter. It comes closer to earth about every four years. Radar images show it to be like a peanut shell in shape, with two lobes. It's greatest length is about 4.2 kilometers, making rather large actually.  On December 13th, a Chinese space probe made a close pass to Toutatis. You can find all about that encounter here on SpaceRef:

Toutatis came by at about 18 Lunar Distances. It is expected to make a really close pass in 2069!

Monday, December 3, 2012

50 Years Ago: Mariner II in Trouble

Art of the Mariner II probe to Venus.

Was the Mariner mission to Venus a cursed mission? Some people were wondering that during the end of November in 1962. The Mariner mission to Venus was intended to succeed in receiving signals from a probe near Venus, make sensor readings of the planet as the probe passed by, and detect any magnetic fields around the planet. Mariner 1 was destroyed when a malfunctioning Atlas rocket veered off course in July 1962, forcing the range officer to push the self-destruct button. Mariner w, an exact copy of the first, launched on August 27, 1962. On September 4, engineers were surprised when the craft lost its lock on the Sun briefly while the craft was making a mid-course correction. Thankfully, lock was re-acquired and Mariner proceeded on its way, On its journey, the craft measured the solar wind, detected interplanetary dust, and detected high-energy particles coming from Solar Flares.

Twice during the voyage, the craft suddenly turned off scientific instruments and activated emergency gyroscopes. Navigational lock was lost briefly, then reacquired and instruments turned back on. Scientists speculated that perhaps the craft had been hit by micrometeorites.

Coming into November, one of the solar panels providing energy to the craft began to flirt with breakdown. Finally on November 15, the panel shut down completely. Fortunately the craft was close enough to the Sun now to receive more energy, so instruments were not impacted and the craft continued on its journey, expecting to arrive in December. Still, some scientists had to be wondering, What Next?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Future Aerospace: LAPCAT concept

A Mach 5 Jet design. Credit: Reaction Engines

A British company is moving towards the future of high speed air transport. The LAPCAT concept envisions a new engine design, SCIMITAR, to propel an aircraft up to mach 5 in order to reach the other side of the world in 2 to 4 hours. Reaction Engines designed the engines to use their heat exchange technology to super-cool the engines as they heat from the tremendous thrust. What intrigues me is the possibility of using this design as an atmospheric boost for a low-orbit rocket plane which could then return to Earth on its own.

For more information including engine cutaway and video, check out Parabolic Arc's article at

Enjoy the future!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

50 Years Ago: X-15 Crash

X-15 #2 upside down and in trouble on lake bed.

I found an interesting little incident that happened during the X-15 rocket plane tests back in 1962. On November 9, 1962, pilot Jack McKay was dropped from the B-52 mothership in X-15 #2 over Mud Lake, Nevada. The goal was to reach an altitude of over 120,000 feet. It was the seventh time McKay had flown one of the rocket planes, and it was the 31st mission for the #2 craft. Suddenly engine trouble put the mission in jeopardy. McKay piloted the craft down in a glide to land on the superflat dry lakebed below. Unexpectedly (of course) the nosewheel broke upon touchdown and the craft lost control, sliding nose down and then turning sideways, posing the danger of cartwheeling and breaking up. However, the craft had slowed down, and then flipped over on its back only once, saving the craft and pilot. The picture above shows its final resting position and state after emergency crews had "safed" the X-15. McKay suffered only light injuries, and the X-15 had damage to the nosegear, nose, wings, and tail. Engineers determined the craft could be repaired. That's a very tough vehicle! (and pilot, too!)

Pilot Jack McKay on the right, with a rebuilt X-15 in 1966.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

50 Years Ago: Saturn Rocket Testing

Unmanned SA-3 lifts off from Pad 34.

On November 16, 1962,  NASA achieved an important milestone on the path to the Moon when they launched mission SA-3. This unmanned test included the primary mission of launching the SA-1 first stage, which would become the first stage of the Saturn 1 rocket. The second and third stages were dummy stages and included test monitoring sensors. The launch was kept under tight security, as the area had been hit by a tropical depression in September followed by the ongoing Cuban Missile Crisis. As the test reached its successful conclusions, the second and third stages were remotely detonated from mission control, and the first stage crashed into the Atlantic some 270 + miles downrange.

Cutaway diagram of the S-IV stage.

Also on the 16th, a very large package arrived in Alabama. Shipped all the way from Douglas Missile and Space Systems in Santa Monica, California, the S-IV (200) stage of the Saturn rocket arrived at the Huntsville Marshall Space Flight Center. The 23-day journey by barge was made by the first Saturn stage of many more to come. The S-IV stage would become the second stage of the Saturn 1 rocket, and the third stage of the Saturn V. This particular piece would be used in testing at the Center to see how it would react to the stresses of flight.

Barge docks at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

ISS Expedition 33 Readies for Trip Home

Making a mess in the Destiny Module.

Ever notice how things get a little messy when you get ready for a trip? Looks like that's true off the planet as well as at home. Expedition 33 crew members Sunni WIlliams, Aki Hoshide, and Yuri Malenchenko are preparing everything they need for their upcoming flight home to Earth. 

On Saturday, Commander WIlliams will turn over command to astronaut Kevin Ford in the official Change of Command Ceremony. On Sunday, the three Expedition crew members will undock from the iSS in their Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft for the de-orbit burn and re-entry through the atmosphere. Once they undock, Commander Ford will then officially be leading Expedition 34, along with cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin.

Expedition 34 will receive the second part of their crew in mid-December.

Unmanned Progress Resupply ship approaches ISS.

On November 1, Russia launched a Soyuz rocket lifting the Progress M-17M unmanned supply spacecraft into orbit. The trajectory of this mission enabled the craft to fly the "shortcut" path to dock with the ISS only a few hours later. The success of this mission paves the way to launching manned Soyuz capsules on the same trajectory in the near future, thus saving hours of cramped claustrophobic flight in the Soyuz craft. This Progress capsule brings astronaut supplies, and station life support and fuel supplies. Later the same day, another Progress ship docked at the station used its maneuvering thrusters to boost the ISS orbit in order to dodge some space debris.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Space Center is Closed...

Not the Houston Space Center, not the Kennedy Space Center... sorry, don't panic completely! Here I'm referring to the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center, formerly of the Alpine School District in Utah. An education center teaching space exploration and astronomy for more than 22 years. The following paragraphs are from an entry I made on my Facebook page this morning. There will be more information to come:

"The Space Center has been closed. For my followers who are supporters of the Space Center, this is not news, but for my family and friends, this seems odd. This post is really for them, as I don’t post often and they need an update. Most of them know I’ve been volunteering and working part time for the Christa McaAuliffe Space Education Center (CMSEC of just the Space Center) for about 22 years now. At the beginning of August The Center was closed by the District Maintenance office for an evaluation and upgrade of the electronics in the simulators, so that they could meet the vast myriad of federal and state government regulations. This occurred at the same time that the department made a sweeping inspection of schools and classrooms through the district, looking for violations of code.

"At the Space Center we were informed that the center was determined now to be unsafe to students (even though we had previously been passed by Fire Marshall inspectors), telling us that there are vast electrical problems and design problems with the Center (these folks had been in the center several times before, why were the designs a problem now?). The district leadership told us that we would not be opened until the problems were fixed, and that outside companies would then bid on the repairs.

"That never happened. Instead, a week ago the District declared the center was permanently closed (no companies had inspected or bid on the repairs).  They told us they would plan for a science and math exploration center to be built in some undetermined future and the space center would be there. Then word got out that the simulators (the heart of what we do in the center) would not be included in that redesign. The center evidently no longer supported the district’s curriculum emphasis on science and math.

"The staff and supporters are, of course, outraged. We all know how we have touched the lives of students throughout the Alpine School District, the state of Utah, and across the country. Volunteers have now gotten together and formed a “Save the Space Center” committee. We are receiving support from the local school community and friends from across the country. Bad timing for the District: they did this right before election time, and many of the Board are up for elections! The District is getting swamped by angry and confused supporters, and the local community is joining with us as we seek to establish a wide network of friends and supporters online. On Saturday our first Save the Space Center Honk and Wave took place in Pleasant Grove.

"How can you help? Visit our Facebook page, “Save the Space Center” at and receive updates and news on how the network of supporters will put the heat on the district and ensure the survival of the Center and our innovative teaching methods. You can also visit the “Troubador”, the blog of former center director Victor Williamson who keeps the memories of the space center alive and well:

"We are planning events and keeping everyone informed through the facebook page and getting more and more organized each passing day. We appreciate all the help that has been offered by our loyal fans! Keep tuned for more details…"

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Soyuz TMA-06M launches to ISS

Blast-off in Baikonur.

This morning a Soyuz rocket took off from the Russian space center in Baikonur, carrying the second half of the Expedition 33 crew to the ISS. On board were astronaut Kevin Ford, and cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin. They will join Expedition 33 commander Suni Williams, astronaut Aki Hoshide and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko who have been on the station since July 17.

Nice ascent to orbit.

As usual, the second part of the current expedition 33 will become the next expedition's primary crew once the current commander and crew depart. When Commander Williams and her crew leave in November, then Kevin Ford will become the Expedition 34 commander and his crew will await their second half in December.

The Soyuz is expected to dock with ISS at 8:35 a.m. Thursday.

Expedition 33 prime crew. L-R: Tarelkin, Novitskiy, Ford.  Evgeny Novitskiy commands the Soyuz to the ISS. Picture taken in front of the Soyuz TMA-06M capsule before it was integrated with its launcher. They are expected to remain on ISS for five months.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Recent Satellite Launches from Around the World

Technician works on the Orbcomm satellite. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

The big focus for space enthusiasts lately has been the remarkable mission of SpaceX's Dragon capsule to the ISS. While the station resupply effort went well, the secondary payload on the Falcon 9 rocket ended in failure.  Due to a malfunctioning engine, other engines on the Falcon rocket overcompensated and burned longer than planned, resulting in the wrong orbital placement of the OrbComm satellite. Built by the Sierra Nevada Corporation, Orbcomm was an engineering test vehicle to help establish a new network of communication satellites. This example was a prototype, designed to test how the system would react in its orbital environment. There are 18 small satellites planned for the system, all due to be launched on Falcon 9 rockets. Unfortunately, the wrong orbit placement caused the Orbcomm to fail its mission and it de-orbited. NASA and SpaceX engineers are investigating the failure while company executives plan a way to continue this mission.

Meanwhile, there have been other launches around the world.

Delta 4 launch from pad 37 at Cape Canaveral, October 4. On board was the GPS 2F-3 satellite. This was a replacement satellite for an older one in the GPS system we all rely on.  The satellite reached its intended orbit just fine. Credit: Pat Corkery/ULA.

A Russian Soyuz rocket lifted off from the European Space Agency's French Guiana launch site on October 12. It carried a pair of satellites for the Galileo navigation system, which affects many drivers, airplanes, and ships around the world. Successful placement of satellites. Credit: ESA.

On Sunday October 14, China launched a Long March 2C rocket from the Taiyuan space facility. It carried two Shijuan-9 engineering test satellites into space to study new satellite test equipment. This photo is of a previous Long March launch. Credit from Chinese News Agency.

A Russian Proton blasted off from the Baikonur site in Kazakhstan on Sunday October 14. It carried an Intelsat telecommunications satellite into orbit. Credit: Krunichev.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Man Breaks Sound Barrier - In Freefall!

Moments after leaving the balloon's capsule, Felis begins the descent. Picture from the open door. All photos credit Red Bull Stratos.

Three world records were broken Sunday when Felix Baumgartner of Austria ascended to a record 128,100 feet (highest manned balloon ascent), and then jumped in a free fall descent to land by parachute in Roswell, New Mexico. Yes, THAT Roswell.

Felix leaves the capsule.

The attempt was hit by trouble. Once he had left the capsule, a heating problem with the visor caused fogging, and he immediately began a dangerous spin. Later he reported that he was concerned he could pass out from the spin forces. However, as he encountered thicker atmosphere, he managed to controlled his spin and continue the fall as planned.

On the way down, he broke another record when his speed reached an incredible mach 1.24, becoming the first person to exceed the sound barrier without a jet or rocket. Upon reaching the determined altitude, his chute opened to slow him, and then his parasail was deployed so he could maneuver to the designated landing zone.

Plenty of advertising space on the chute!

When he had safely reached the ground he fell to his knees and triumphantly raised his arms in victory. He was soon joined by his mentor, Col. Joe Kittinger (ret.) who was the previous record holder. Felix had now become the man with the highest parachute jump.

The record making jump occurred exactly 65 years from the day that another man, American Chuck Yeager, made his world record becoming the first to break the sound barrier in the Bell X-1, on October 14, 1947.

65 years ago, Chuck Yeager standing beside the Bell X-1.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Here comes another one!

It's Duck and Cover time!

While most of us were sleeping, a chunk of rock about 20 meters across zipped by Earth on its way around the Solar System. The asteroid, designated 2012 TC4 was estimated to pass by our planet rather close, at about 1/4 the distance from the Earth to the Moon, or about 96,000 kilometers (about 59,000 miles).

Time-elapsed picture of 2012 TC4. Picture by Remanzacco Observatory.

For more comet and asteroid updates, check the blog of the Associazionie Friulana di Astronomia e Meteorologia:

Notes from the Command Bunker: This NEO, or Near Earth Object, demonstrates the need we have for continued research of Earth-orbit-crossing-asteroids. It was only discovered on October 7! What if we had also discovered that it was on a collision course with a major city? Write to your member of the House of Representatives and urge them to demand that Congress and NASA allocate more funding for discovery and analysis of NEO's. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dragon goes to work!

Dragon's location on the ISS, along with the Soyuz crew spacecraft and a Progress resupply ship. NASA TV graphic.

SpaceX has successfully completed part one of its record-making first official contracted delivery to the ISS. Just after 7 a.m. MDT, the Dragon resupply spacecraft was docked to the Harmony module by Expedition 33 astronauts. Inside the capsule are supplies and scientific experiments to be used on the station, and a refrigeration unit. This "glacier freezer" was previously used on the space shuttles to store valuable samples from station experiments for return to Earth. Part 2 of this mission will be to return valuable equipment and science experiments and samples to the ground. With the advent of Dragon, America now leaps forward beyond the Europeans, Russians, and Japanese in cargo transfer to the ISS. None of the other agencies can return items to the Earth, as they burn up their vehicles upon re-entry. 

Falcon 9 on Pad 40.

SpaceX becomes the first commercially-run transportation system to resupply the ISS. Granted, they have received development funding from NASA, as well as cooperative launch monitoring, but the operation is basically that of SpaceX. NASA's efforts to date have paved the way in experimentation and discovery, and now private American enterprises begin the next transformation of space travel.

Blast off of the Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft.

SpaceX launched the Falcon 9 rocket on October 7. There seems to have been a slight engine feed problem which resulted in the destruction of one of the engine nozzle fairings, but the rocket kept on course. However, the launch was marred slightly in that the engine shutoff was late. The main payload, the Dragon spacecraft, was successfully placed in orbit to intercept the ISS, but a secondary payload, which was a test spacecraft for global positioning, was stranded in a lower-than needed orbit. Engineers are now looking to see if they can use the satellite's systems to boost the orbit slightly and still accomplish mission objectives.

Dragon docked with Harmony module.

This morning the crew of Expedition 33 used the CanadArm robotic arm to grapple the Dragon on its close approach, then maneuver it to the docking port on the US-built Harmony module. Crewmembers will check out the docking, the spacecraft systems, and adapt the spacecraft's environment. Then they will spend about 18 days to unload the capsule and fill the empty space and "glacier freezer" with equipment and samples to be returned to Earth. Undocking and landing is expected to occur on October 28.

Monday, October 8, 2012

50 Years Ago: Sigma 7 in Space!

Walter M. Schirra, "Wally" with model of Mercury spacecraft.

It was the morning of October 3, 1962, and Astronaut Wally Schirra awoke early. He had a large breakfast, which actually included a bluefish he had speared the day before while diving off the coast of Florida! After a pre-flight physical exam, and after suiting up, he was driven out to the launchpad at LC-14. Still before daylight, Schirra was lifted up to the special room on the gantry where he could board the spacecraft.

Schirra is helped into the cramped cockpit of the Mercury capsule. The Sigma 7 logo is seen to his left just below the window.

Schirra had nicknamed his capsule "Sigma 7." The greek letter sigma was used to represent "Engineering" and the 7 referred to the Mercury 7 astronauts. After the missed landing point and other flight difficulties encountered during the previous Mercury mission, Wally has determined to fly as perfect a mission as he could. He had to endure many changes to the planned flight, resulting in difficulties in training. There was a lot of pressure on NASA to extend the flight length of the mission, in order to start catching up to the Soviet space records. The Sigma 7 name therefor reflected the focus on flight operations and capsule testing rather than space exploration.

Liftoff of Mercury-Atlas 8 from Pad LC-14.

In the early morning hours at the Cape, blast-off occurred as normal but then the craft began to roll unexpectedly. Some flight controllers pondered an abort to the mission, but the small thrusters on the Atlas missile performed correctly and stopped the roll. The capsule was lifted into an orbit slightly higher than expected due to a 10-second delay in cutting off the engines. Mission Control confirmed the flight was "Go" for at least six orbits, maybe seven.

View of the western North Atlantic.

Schirra performed the expected flight operations, testing the controls of the spacecraft which included attempting recovery from spacecraft drift. It also turned out that someone had left a steak sandwich in the capsule. Schirra also performed a few scientific objectives that included spotting bright illuminations on the Earth, and photographs of cloud reflectivity which would help engineers perfect weather satellite cameras. During the flight, Schirra had some difficulties with overheating in his suit, and condensation on his visor. By carefully adjusting the controls he was able to slowly regulate the temperature. At one point he tried some exercises in zero-G, using a bungee cord to flex his arm muscles. After eight hours and six orbits, Schirra began preparations for returning to the Earth.

USS Kearsarge, recovery ship for MA-8. The Kearsarge was a modified aircraft carrier, designed for anit-submarine duties and carrying a complement of helicopters.

Re-entry went fine, but there had been some concerns about the close proximity of two typhoons near recovery areas in the Pacific. The radar of the prime recovery ship, USS Kearsarge, detected the spacecraft while it was still 200 miles away from its landing site. Schirra had brought the craft to a near perfect landing, only 4 and a half miles away from the aiming point, and just a half mile away from the carrier!

Snapshot from the deck of the Kearsarge as Sigma 7 heads toward a water landing.

Helicopters were immediately on the site, and Navy frogmen jumped in the water to attach flotation devices to the spacecraft and ensure the safety of the astronaut. Instead of climbing out of the capsule, Schirra decided to stay aboard the capsule until he was brought onto the deck of the ship.

Navy frogmen attach flotation "collars" to the Mercury capsule to keep it oriented while awaiting towing.

Schirra is helped from the capsule after landing on the deck of the USS Kearsarge.

The capsule was quickly towed over to the carrier, and was hoisted to the deck. With the all-clear given, Schirra activated the mechanism to blow off the escape hatch door, and he was helped out onto the deck.

With the success of the mission, plans were adjusted to make the next flight the longest American mission to date. Valuable data had been gathered by Schirra and the instruments on Sigma 7 to make that next mission a success.

Of course, upon return to Houston, Wally was given a ticker-tape welcome home parade and began tours around the country to be adored by the public. The Sigma 7 capsule itself eventually wound up at the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, Florida, just outside the Kennedy Space Center.

An obviously Happy Wally.

Sigma 7 on display at the Astronaut Hall of Fame.I've been able to visit this capsule several times. The capsule is tilted over so that you can look directly into the cockpit and get a good view of the cramped conditions and the 60's era control panel.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

ISS Docking Ports Clear

ESA's ATV Edoardo Amaldi undocks from ISS.

On September 28, the Automated Transfer Vehicle Edoardo AmaldiI undocked from the International Space Station. The craft had docked with the ISS in March this year, bringing fuel, air, supplies, and scientific equipment for the Expedition 32 crew. Having filled the empty interior with station waste and garbage, the Expedition 33 crew undocked the ship and ESA ground controllers maneuvered it into a de-orbit path. It's de-orbit burn will take place today, causing the spacecraft to break up and burn as it re-enters the atmosphere over the South Pacific Ocean.

With the de-orbit burn up of Japan's HTV-3 supply ship on September 14, and the successful landing of the Expedition 32 crew on September 17, the space ports around the ISS are looking a bit empty. Not to Worry! Additional flights are headed that way.

Falcon 9 rocket at Launch Complex 40.

SpaceX has scheduled a repeat of their record-breaking commercial supply launch for take-off on October 7th at 6:35 pm MDT. The Falcon 9 rocket will lift the Dragon capsule into an intercepting orbit and deliver additional supplies to the Expedition 33 crew.

Kevin Ford, Oleg Novitskiy, Evgeny Tarelkin at simulator.

Reinforcements will soon be on the way to the ISS. The next flight of crewmembers for Expedition 33 includes astronaut Kevin Ford (who will command Expedition 34), and cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin. They are scheduled for liftoff from Baikonur on October 23 in Soyuz TMA-06M.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Close Call recently with ISS

HTV released by robotic arm from ISS.

The HTV-3, Japan's third remotely-operated cargo spacecraft, was undocked from the ISS on September 12. Shortly after release by the robotic arm, an unknown malfunction indicated the craft was in danger of possibly colliding with the station. Space History nuts like me may remember years ago when a robot Russian Progress craft accidentally crashed slowly into the Mir space station, causing damage and nearly forcing immediate evacuation of the station.

Fortunately, the automatic programming in the HTV activated and started emergency thrusting away from the station. The automatic abort maneuver did exactly as planned and placed the craft in a safe position away from the station and in place to make a planned de-orbit burn into the atmosphere on Friday.

Farewell, HTV-3.

Japan's mission control quickly re-routed commands through a backup computer system and established full control of the craft. The HTV, filled with station trash and waste, de-orbited Friday and burned up in the atmosphere. It had stayed 47 days connected to the station, after delivering food, supplies, an aquatic habitat for science experiments, and 5 small "Cubesats" which will be released from the station in the near future. It had been nicknamed "Kounotori-3." Four more HTV's are expected to be launched to the station through 2020.

50 Years Ago: Tiros 6 launched

Replica of Tiros 6. This model was placed on public display in the Parade of Progress Show.

On September 18, 1962 NASA launched the Tiros 6 weather satellite. It was launched on a Delta three-stage rocket and placed in orbit believed to be low enough not to suffer radiation from a recent US Air Force space atomic blast test. The launch was the 6th successful placement of Tiros satellites in orbit and the eleventh straight success in the launch of Delta three-stage rockets. The satellite performed very well and later that day had already sent images to Earth that could be used in weather forecasting.

50 Years Ago: The "New Nine"

Astronaut Group 2, "The New Nine"

Fifty years ago on September 17, 1962, the Director of NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center, Bob Gilruth, announced to the press the names of NASA's second group of soon-to-be astronauts. Like the original Mercury Seven astronauts, all were former test pilots and these were chosen from a field of 253  applicants. These astronauts would train for upcoming missions in the Gemini and Apollo space programs. Shown in the picture above were (back row L-R) Elliot See, Jim McDivitt, Jim Lovell, Ed White, (front row L-R) Pete Conrad, Frank Borman, Neil Armstrong, and John Young.

On the same day, NASA announced that Mercury Astronaut Deke Slayton (prohibited from flight due to heart condition) would be promoted to "Coordinator of Astronaut Activities" responsible for assignment of training and engineering duties of all astronauts. He would help play a role in the determining of space flight assignments, and therefore, who would walk on the Moon.

Sadly, Neil Armstrong passed away just weeks ago, short of this 50th anniversary of his being selected as an astronaut. By the time this picture was taken though, he had already had a fantastic career as a Navy test pilot and had worked for NASA as a pilot in the X-15 rocket plane program.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Armstrong's Life Commemorated

The Colors paraded at the Armstrong memorial gathering.

On September 13 the nation gathered together at the Washington National Cathedral to remember our first Moonwalker. Televised on NASA TV, and covered by Fox News (the other networks did not cover the event) the memorial brought together fellow astronauts, family and friends, and national leaders to remember and honor the life of one of America's greatest heroes. 

The U.S. Navy posting the colors. Armstrong was a naval aviator before joining NASA as a civilian astronaut.

The speakers at the meeting talked about Armstrong as a dedicated engineer who loved exploring through science and adventure. They also spoke of his love of flight, and his great ability to inspire others. Speakers included Eugene Cernan, the last astronaut to walk on the Moon, former Secretary of the Treasury John Snow (a close friend of Armstrong), Administrator of NASA (and shuttle astronaut) Charlie Bolden, and religious leaders at the Cathedral. Michael Collins, the command module pilot of the Apollo 11 mission, led the congregation in scripture and prayers. Jazz singer/composer DIana Krall gave a moving rendition of "Fly me to the Moon" made famous by singer Frank Sinatra. There was also music by the U.S. Navy band "Sea Chanters," the Metropolitan Opera Brass, and the Cathedral Choir. It ended with a moving eulogy by Rev. Mariann Budde.

If you have the time, it is well worth your while to watch the proceedings at the NASA website. But be prepared to shed some tears. You can watch it at:

After the memorial, the Armstrong family and other officials were hosted by the U.S. Navy on board the warship U.S.S. Phillipine Sea. Armstrong's ashes were buried at sea by Navy custom.

Farewell, Neil Armstrong.